By Mike Durant
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has rightfully focused on New York’s property tax burden since taking office. We were pleased to work in tandem with the administration in implementing both the highly touted property tax cap and pension reform. Both were essential steps in the fight to stem the unsustainable tide homeowners were facing. Our position was and remains that comprehensive property tax relief needed to be a multifaceted approach, i.e. tax cap plus mandate relief.
This year, the governor has again focused on the fiscal peril our schools and communities face while also looking at the adverse impact taxes have on business. The governor’s rhetoric has been spot on and we largely agree that property taxes continue to have a negative impact on the business climate of New York. But the methodology Cuomo is taking to address these concerns is simply wrong.
The governor is pushing a new website and doubling down on his efforts to put in place a two-year freeze on property taxes and a gradual phase-in of a “circuit breaker” tax shift concept that has been kicking around Albany for years. Both of these ideas are based on assumptions that are widely held to be not true and are also concepts that are not actual tax reform.
The assumption is that homeowners will put pressure on their schools and communities to stay under the property tax cap in order to receive the tax freeze by forcing consolidation, shared services and other tax reducing efforts. Have schools and communities not been doing that already? Are we really sure that these entities have not exhausted most, if not all, of their options within the parameters of existing law? We believe they have.
The circuit breaker concept is being touted as a tax cut, which is partly true, but not exactly. The circuit breaker bases homeowners’ property tax bills on their income. It does not reduce the entirety of the levy, just moves the pieces around the board. It will not create the financial flexibility our schools and communities need and will do nothing to reduce the enormity of New York’s property tax burden. It just shifts the costs.
The governor is right to focus further on rightsizing government and reducing taxes, but shifting costs and putting temporary freezes in place will not move New York forward. We continue to push for comprehensive mandate relief, such as Scaffold and Wicks law reform. Or perhaps reform in health contributions by public employees or dare I mention the holy grail of the unsustainability, the Triborough Amendment?
We will stand with the governor again, but only when meaningful efforts to reduce property taxes are advanced. This component of the state budget proposal should be rejected.
Mike Durant is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.